Eléana Ní Mhurchú gives her take on the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘Green New Deal’.
Considered by some to be too radical and by others to be utterly unsubstantive, what exactly is the Green New Deal (GND)?
First of all, there is no single GND. The most talked about example is pushed by Democrat Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and the Sunrise Movement in the US currently but the concept goes back a decade. In 2008, the Green New Deal Group in the UK published ‘A Green New Deal’; described as ‘joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices.’ This called for government led-investment into renewable energy, microgeneration and energy efficiency as well as re-regulation of finance and taxation. The concept was amplified when it was adopted by the UN Environment Programme as the Global Green New Deal. The Green Party in the United States developed the concept into an extensive plan which was key to Jill Stein’s platform during the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections.
The Green Party’s plan consisted of a 4 part program which combined policies for social and economic justice with those designed to move to a carbon neutral economy, which included:
- An ‘Economic Bill of Rights’, promised to end unemployment once and for all, to guarantee a job at living wage for every American willing and able to work. Local unemployment offices would be replaced by direct employment offices that would be nationally funded but locally controlled. The rights guaranteed to workers under this Bill would also include; the right to unionise, a living wage, a safe working environment, healthcare through a single-payer system, to free, quality education from pre-school through to college with forgiveness for student debt accrued in the current unaffordable era, to fairly priced utilities and to decent, affordable housing, with a immediate ban on foreclosures and evictions. It also called for the right to fair taxation proportionate to the ability to pay. The proposed Bill put a strong focus on public ownership and economic justice with its ambitions for nationalised utilities and the building of public housing .
- A ‘Green Transition’ programme to transfer from the ‘grey economy’ to a more ‘green’ one through investment in green business, sustainable energy and agriculture. The full employment programme advocated for would employ people in green jobs such as green retrofitting, renewable energy and the building of a mass transit system.
- Financial Reform including breaking up ‘too big too fail’ banks, reducing homeowner and student debt, end bank bailouts and re-open ‘failed’ banks as public banks, bring monetary policy under public control whilst regulating derivatives. Radically it also calls for the nationalisation of Federal Reserve banks, re-regulation of finance and the formation of municipal, state and federal banks that function as non-profit entities.
- Democratic Reform is proposed as a key component of the Green Party’s platform and they identify it as a necessary step to ensure that any real reform takes place.
The idea of the GND entered Democrat circles after the 2018 midterms and was adopted by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who put forward a bill to create a select committee with the aim of creating a plan for the GND that could realise the goal of having the US run on 100% renewable energy within 10 years. Sweeping social reforms, the retrofitting of every building in America, massive investment in infrastructure and higher taxes on the rich were also included. This has now become a non-binding resolution to be put to congress with the intent to follow it with a series of Green New Deal Bills to implement an ambitious framework. The framework put forward by the New York Representative adheres to many of the same principles and goals that the Green Party’s original platform put forward with an emphasis on a just transition and minimising the impact on the marginalised. Interestingly, the framework also calls not only for marginalised groups to be safeguarded but for the cessation and rectification of systematic injustices as well as indigenous rights. It calls for the US to become a global leader in addressing climate change and to share its ‘technology, expertise and products’ with other countries to bring about a global GND. It also puts an emphasis on the reduction and clean-up of pollution as well as carbon capture through reforestation.
Unfortunately, when the plan was lifted from the Green Party’s platform, the proposal to fund it with a 50% cut in military spending and the closure of military bases around the world was not carried over. It is sad to see that even the ‘radical’ democrats haven’t broken with the bipartisan consensus on endless imperialism from an environmental as well as a humanitarian perspective. After all, the US military is the largest polluter globally.
There is certainly support within the Democratic party right now for a GND. The original resolution for a Select Committee received the support of 45 House representatives and over 330 groups; every major contender for the 2020 Democratic primaries has also said they back a GND. A senate vote has been set, many argue prematurely, by the Republican party on the GND resolution on the 26TH of April which will force House Democrats to either fully support or rebuke the Bill. Only time will tell how the vote will go.
Broadly speaking, there are a couple of issues with the GND. Its proponents argue that we are facing the worst crisis since the Great Depression and must respond with the same ambition and scope as FDR’s New Deal to put a stop to that. This, however, misunderstands the context and motivation behind the New Deal; essentially a programme of concessions aimed at pacifying a militant labour movement, from an American elite felt intent on maintaining their grip on power. To combat climate change – an existential threat to humanity – we will need a similar level of militancy. We will need a mass movement consisting of an alliance between environmentalists and labour – a so-called blue-green alliance – committed to challenging the entrenched class interests that have caused the ruling class to obstruct even the most paltry gestures in response to climate change.
Criticism from the left of the GND points out that the idea of combining ‘green jobs’ and ‘green growth’ is simply green capitalism. Endless growth in production via the capitalist mode is simply unsustainable, even if marketed as ‘eco-friendly’. The evidence for this lies all around us. Despite huge growth in the number and types of ‘green’ products, emission levels continue to rise and we continue to hurtle down the path to destruction. It does not have to be this way. We, as socialists, can take the concept of the GND, (of combining labour reforms with investment in renewable energy and environmental sustainability) and make it our own. We can use it as a rallying cry for a number of radical policies that are a step towards the ecosocialist transition we need.
The Green New Deal I propose, takes all that I have discussed into account and, unashamedly takes from and intends to improve the proposals of the European and American Greens.
- Make public transport free. We need to remove cars from the roads starting now. Investment in free, expanded (especially in rural areas) public transport would make this feasible. This would have the added bonus of mitigating rural isolation and helping disabled people who can’t drive.
- Make the move to renewable energy now. This means immediately banning further exploration and extraction of fossil fuels by passing the Climate Emergency Measures Bill. Investment in renewable energy delivered through an efficient and upgraded public grid would be environmentally friendly as well as providing an opportunity for putting an upper limit on fuel costs and preventing fuel poverty. The development of wave, solar and wind energy in Ireland could be a major source of new jobs.
- Prohibit projects like Shannon LNG which facilitate the importation of fracked gas and keep the country hooked on fossil fuels.
- Impose carbon taxes not on workers but on corporations. Prevent pollution and impose heavy fines on industries found to be polluting the local environment.
- End our dependence on the beef industry, it is a huge source of greenhouse gases as well as pollution. Adopt sustainable farming practices aimed at maintaining food security as well as soil fertility.
- Retrofit homes to improve heat efficiency and create green jobs. Strengthen flood defences and enact other measures designed to limit the destruction caused by extreme weather events.
- Abandon Ireland’s ‘tax haven status’ by increasing corporate tax and imposing a heavy corporate carbon tax. Finance should be reregulated and the banks nationalised. Corporate tax fraud should be treated as a theft from the people rather than simply ‘business as normal’ and be aggressively pursued. Climate change was not caused by ordinary people and the solutions to it should be funded by those responsible.
- Build public housing on public land, cap rents and enable people to live close to their place of work. This could substantially cut down on the amount of emissions generated by people forced out of cities and commuting long distances to work.
- Ensure high quality child and healthcare, the availability of subsidised foods (including vegetarian) in schools and workplaces and housing security. These are measures that can improve quality of life and should be implemented.
- Reduce the amount of hours’ people work. Job creation, fundamentally, should be focused on sharing the socially necessary and useful labour burden among the able in the population and maximising free-time and quality of life. It’s time to fight back against the ever-lengthening work-day.
Combating climate change, however, ultimately requires expropriating resources from the rich in order to mitigate the worst effects of an increasingly hostile climate. We should expect resistance but continue to fight nonetheless, as our entire existence is at stake. Climate change is a crisis, but it is also an opportunity to radicalise the populace to fight for a more equal society for all.